When the Association of Writers and Writing Programs decided to hold its 2017 conference in Washington D.C., the planners could not have imagined the firestorm of political activity scheduled around this year’s conference. But that’s what happens when more than 10,000 free-speech-loving writers descend on a capital city newly occupied by an administration that has made consistent claims against the truthfulness of the media and disputed the nature of facts themselves, not to mention enacted a controversial travel ban barring entry into the U.S. from seven predominantly Muslim countries. President Trump will likely be the de-facto theme of this year’s conference.
In addition to panels whose conversations will veer toward the Trump administration, the travel ban, and what are viewed as Trump’s ongoing challenges to free speech, there are several major protests activities planned, unaffiliated with AWP itself.
Writers Resist Trump (unaffiliated with PEN’s Writer’s Resist events) is an action planned for Friday, February 10. It was loosely organized in the weeks leading up to the conference by Robert Marshall, a New York City-based writer who teaches part time at the International Center for Photography. Marshall told PW, “I looked and didn’t see anything about people going to congress, and I thought that was a little weird." Marshall began talking to like-minded friends and then started a Facebook group to plan and gather participants.
Writers have been posting to the group page for weeks, with Marshall helping to organize groups of writers by state and congressional district and encouraging them to write and collect letters and other materials pertaining to the new administration and then make appointments with representatives to deliver and discuss them. “I thought there were a lot of people who use words and language and understand what is at stake here, and that it would be a really powerful thing, to get them speaking directly to people who have power,” Marshall said. The action will be followed by a rally at 4:30 outside the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. As of this writing, almost 1,500 people had joined the Facebook group
The poet D.A. Powell, with the help of Erin Belieu, VIDA cofounder and organizer of the national Writer’s Resist group (now called Write Our Democracy) that sponsored dozens of protests in January, has organized a march that will begin at the Washington Marriott Marquis at 1:30 on Friday, and continue on to the Capitol, where the organizers have obtained a permit to hold a rally. In a statement sent to writers a week ago, Powell said "We've got about a thousand folks signed on…and a working motto that I think subtly pokes fun at Trump's anger-management style and also celebrates writing and its power to shape culture: 'Use Your Words.'"
Belieu told PW that, "over the course of the campaign season and with this horrible outcome, it’s been really meaningful and beautiful to watch all of these people emerge as writer-activists who might not have been moved at other times to action. Our writer community seems extremely lively and engaged and focused. So AWP seems like a perfect opportunity for writers to come together and voice their descent against this racist, misogynist, fascist administration."
Additionally, the Washington.-based poets’ activism organization Split This Rock is holding a candlelight vigil in front of the White House on Saturday, February 11 at 6:30 p.m.
The conference takes place at the Washington Convention Center and the Washington Marriott Marquis from February 8-11. The conference was last held in Washington in 2012. PW will be covering the conference throughout.